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Allen, James (25 December 1697–07 January 1755), merchant and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jeremiah Allen, the longtime treasurer of the province, and Mary Caball. Ranked fifth by social status in a class of seventeen at Harvard College, he graduated in 1717. Allen then entered his father’s merchant business, importing dry goods from England and exchanging New England fish for West India sugar. In 1725 he married Martha Fitch, daughter of Colonel Thomas Fitch. They had no children. Allen belonged to Boston’s Congregational West Church but was not a bigot: he contributed £20 to the Anglican King’s Chapel for the purchase of bells....

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Bache, Richard (?1737–29 July 1811), merchant and revolutionary leader, was born in Settle in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, the son of William Bache, a tax collector in Settle, and Mary Blyckenden. With encouragement from his father, Richard, at a young age, pursued a career in business and evidently worked in several British counting houses....

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Bayard, John Bubenheim (11 August 1738–07 January 1807), merchant and statesman, was born at Bohemia Manor, Maryland, the son of James Bayard, a merchant and planter, and Mary Asheton. He and his twin brother James Asheton Bayard were educated first by Samuel Finley...

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Bingham, William (08 April 1752–07 February 1804), businessman and public official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bingham, a saddler and merchant, and Mary “Molly” Stamper. Bingham graduated cum laude from the College of Philadelphia in 1768. Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant ...

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Crowninshield, Benjamin Williams (27 December 1772–03 February 1851), merchant and politician, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of George Crowninshield, a sea captain and merchant, and Mary Derby, daughter of another prominent shipping family. Young Benjamin received a common school education and then was put into his father’s shipping business, George Crowninshield and Sons, to learn navigation and the clerical details of the business. He went to sea at a very early age and may even have captained a ship himself. In 1804 he married Mary Boardman, who was also from a prominent shipping family; they had no children....

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Cushing, Thomas (24 March 1725–28 February 1788), merchant and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Cushing, a prominent merchant and officeholder, and Mary Bromfield. Thomas graduated from Harvard in the class of 1744 and received a master’s degree in 1747. That same year he married Deborah Fletcher, with whom he had two children. Although established as a merchant specializing in the importation of woolens, his business dwindled as his interest in local politics increased. After serving in a number of minor Boston offices, he was appointed a justice of the peace in 1760. The next year he began a fourteen-year stint in the Massachusetts General Court as a member of the Popular party, opposing the royal governor’s Court party. In 1766, when Governor ...

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Dexter, Samuel (16 March 1726–10 June 1810), merchant and political leader, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of the Reverend Samuel Dexter, the minister of Dedham’s first church, and Catherina Mears. Apprenticed to merchant Samuel Barrett in Boston, the younger Dexter made a sufficient fortune to enable him to retire at the age of thirty-six to his hometown. Meanwhile, in 1748 he married Hannah Sigourney, with whom he had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood....

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Farwell, Charles Benjamin (01 July 1823–23 September 1903), merchant and politician, was born in Painted Post, Steuben County, New York, the son of Henry Farwell and Nancy Jackson, farmers. He was educated in common schools and at Elmira Academy, where he studied surveying. In 1838 the family moved by covered wagon to Ogle County, Illinois, where Farwell spent six years surveying public lands and farming. In 1844 he moved to Chicago and embarked upon his lifelong combination of private business and government service. In the next nine years he moved from deputy to the county clerk of Cook County to clerk in a real estate office to bank clerk and teller. Using the information gained from those positions, by 1849 he had acquired large holdings in Chicago real estate. In 1852 he married Mary Eveline Smith; they had four children who survived to maturity. He was elected to two terms as clerk of Cook County, serving from 1853 to 1861. In the latter year, as younger men flocked to join the army, Farwell began to devote all of his time to his real estate business. In 1865 he joined his brother John V. Farwell’s prosperous dry goods firm. Charles Farwell had become a wealthy and powerful Chicago figure by the conclusion of the Civil War....

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Fell, John (05 February 1721–15 May 1798), merchant, legislator, member of Continental Congress, was born in New York City, of parents who have not been identified. Fell grew up in New York City where one of his ancestors contributed money in 1655 to fortify what was then New Amsterdam. He entered business and by 1759 was the senior partner of John Fell & Company with several armed merchantmen (probably including some privateers) afloat. Before 1766, with his wartime profits, he bought 220 acres of land in northern Paramus, Bergen County, New Jersey. He called his estate “Petersfield,” probably after an ancestor, and after whom he also named his son, Peter. His wife Susanna Marschalk, the widow of a Mr. McIntosh, bore at least one daughter in addition to their son....

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Folsom, Nathaniel (18 September 1726–26 May 1790), merchant and soldier, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the son of Jonathan Folsom and Anna Ladd Foster, farmers. When Folsom was fourteen his father died. He was apprenticed to a trade but later became a merchant and, with two partners, began his own trading firm. He had no formal or academic education....

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Gillon, Alexander (13 August 1741–06 October 1794), merchant and politician, was born in Rotterdam, Holland, the son of the wealthy, middle-class Alexander Gillon and Mary Harris. Gillon, who was fluent in several languages, received an initial taste for the shipping business as an apprentice to British and Dutch firms courtesy of his family connections. Besides his lineage, Gillon’s other major trading commodity was his handsome appearance and the veneer of social graces, which he used as collateral for the next thirty years....

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Gray, William (27 June 1750–03 November 1825), merchant and public official, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the son of Abraham Gray, a shoe manufacturer, and Lydia Calley. His family moved to Salem sometime between the years 1760 and 1763. Gray served an apprenticeship under Samuel Gardner before he entered the counting house of ...

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Hiester, Joseph (18 November 1752–10 June 1832), merchant and politician, was born in Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Hiester and Mary Barbara Epler, farmers. In 1737 his father and three brothers had emigrated from Silesia, then part of the Hapsburg Empire, to the colony of Pennsylvania. Eventually buying several thousand acres of land in Berks County, his father and two brothers moved to Bern Township, where Joseph was born. From an early age, Joseph worked hard on the farm. He obtained his formal education under the minister at the Bern church but could attend classes for only a few months of the year, during the intervals of farm labor. When he grew up, he was apprenticed as a clerk in the general store of Adam Whitman in Reading. He became a partner in the business in 1771, when he married Whitman’s daughter, Elizabeth Whitman. Together they had six children....

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Higgins, Frank Wayland (18 August 1856–12 February 1907), businessman and politician, was born in Rushford, Allegany County, New York, the son of Orrin T. Higgins, a storekeeper and businessman, and Lucia Cornelia Hapgood. He attended the Rushford Academy and, with a youthful interest in soldiering, the Riverview Military Academy in Poughkeepsie, New York, from which he graduated in 1873. He supplemented his education with a commercial course in a business college and extensive travel through various parts of the United States. Higgins worked briefly as a salesman in Denver, Chicago, and then in Stanton, Michigan, where for three years he was a partner in Wood, Thayer, and Company, a mercantile firm. In 1878 he married Catherine Corrinne Noble; they had three children. The next year he returned to New York state and joined his father in Olean in the grocery firm of Higgins, Blodgett, and Company. Later he acquired additional stores in Olean and had large holdings in pine timberlands and iron ore fields in the West, some of which he inherited from his father. He became head of a half-dozen corporations in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington and often visited their operations to see that they were functioning properly. Contemporaries attributed Higgins’s business successes to sound judgment, shrewd investment practices, and solid administrative abilities....

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Irving, William (15 August 1766–09 November 1821), merchant, politician, and author, was born in New York City, the son of William Irving, Sr., a merchant and a deacon of the Presbyterian church, and Sarah Sanders. Their youngest child was the future author Washington Irving...

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George Wallace Jones. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109921).

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Jones, George Wallace (12 April 1804–22 July 1896), miner, merchant, and political leader, was born in Vincennes, Indiana Territory, the son of John Rice Jones, a lawyer and jurist, and Mary Barger. After studying at the Catholic College in St. Louis, Jones, armed with letters of introduction, entered Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. He met a host of then and future political leaders and “formed a warm friendship” with ...

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Langdon, John (26 June 1741–18 September 1819), merchant and politician, was born a few miles outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a modest farm belonging to his parents, John Langdon, Sr., and Mary Hall. He received the finest schooling available for boys in Portsmouth, at Major Samuel Hale’s Latin grammar school, where emphasis lay on the classics. It was not there, however, but in Daniel Rindge’s countinghouse that Langdon, as a young clerk, gained his lifelong trade and a shrewd eye for the main chance. By the mid-1700s Portsmouth, with its deep-water harbor and easily defended location on the Piscataqua River, buzzed with commercial prosperity. Investing first in some of Rindge’s West Indian voyages and then skippering a few himself in the early 1760s, Langdon entered the town’s maritime bonanza. Within a few years his own vessels headed out of the Piscataqua laden with lumber, hides, beef, and dried cod and returned carrying sugar and rum. By 1770, having abandoned seafaring, he and ...

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Livingston, Peter Van Brugh ( October 1710–28 December 1792), merchant and revolutionary leader, was born in Albany, New York, the son of Philip Livingston, a merchant and proprietor of Livingston Manor, and Catrina Van Brugh. The second of six brothers, Livingston spent his childhood in Albany among his predominantly Dutch relatives. He graduated from Yale College in 1731 and then embarked on a career in trade....

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Livingston, Robert (13 December 1654–01 October 1728), colonial merchant, landowner, and politician, was born in Ancrum, Scotland, the son of the Reverend John Livingstone, a minister of the Church of Scotland, and Janet Fleeming. Livingston’s father faced the threat of prosecution as a noted Presbyterian minister in a Scottish church that was moving strongly toward Episcopacy in the aftermath of the Restoration of Charles II, and in 1663 the family fled Scotland for the Protestant haven at Rotterdam. The city of Rotterdam had a large community of Scottish merchants in the seventeenth century, and at a young age Livingston began to engage in commerce, possibly under the tutelage of two brothers-in-law who were active traders in that city....